I do a lot of board recruiting. A LOT.
One of the most common questions I get from those already on the board in question is “Why do I want a college student or young professional on the board? What value does he/she bring?”
While it’s true that most young professionals cannot write a 5 digit check to an organization, is money really the only thing of value we gain from our Board of Directors?
Assuming a nonprofit organization has the right young individual for board service, it can be a mutually beneficial experience. The right candidate has to be a person who has a deep passion for the mission of the organization. I would never advocate putting a twenty-something on a board just because he/she fills a demographic hole. The individual MUST believe in the organization mission, or it doesn’t matter how old he/she is, it won’t be a good fit.
Those dedicated young professionals who really love an organization have oodles of value. It’s often up to the board’s leadership to know how to channel this talent productively. For example, many young professionals have large online networks and know how to build them, something many nonprofit organizations are trying to do.
Organizations should be wary, however, of putting someone on a board who is disinterested in utilizing their networks, regardless of age. If someone truly loves an organization, they would want to share their thoughts and feelings about the organization with their peers and networks, highlighting the accomplishments of the group.
I don’t mean to suggest that once someone joins a board of directors, board membership gives him/her carte blanche to solicit all of his/her friends and family for a donation. Instead, it means that when you join a board, you ask yourself, “Who do I know that would be interested in this organization?” “Do they already know about it and can I facilitate a deeper relationship?” “How do I appropriately inform my networks about this organization that I feel so strongly about?”
Young professionals are often very savvy at online marketing and social media strategies. Even if they are not willing or able to run the online presence for an organization, they are usually willing to teach someone else how to do so.
Additionally, younger people tend to be more generous with both time and money than the boomer generation (based on disposable income). Many young people are more willing to give up time to an organization, which many groups will tell you can sometimes be more valuable than money.
Age diversity can bring a richness to a conversation that may be otherwise flat. For example, one of the boards I was on was comprised of mostly people 50 and over. They often did not think about how to approach people in their 20′s and 30′s with their education and related programming. I found myself often jumping in to say, “What about young families? What about college students.”
Aside from offering a different perspective, this next generation of donors are learning and immersed in philanthropic giving. Most of my peers were raised with a mindset of giving, and have expressed interest in contributing to the community and to organizations. Board service has never occurred to them, but it should. (This is one of my personal missions, and a post all unto itself.)
Many organizations are also struggling with an aging donor population and an aging base of consumers. Adding upcoming generations to volunteer boards is an important tactic. This is a good way of identifying and cultivating new friends and donors from a broader demographic range.
While it may not work for every organization, the vast majority would benefit from new insight.
Now is the time for nonprofit organizations to reconsider their nominating policies and practices, and to consider the importance of new voices. These new voices have a great deal to say about the future of the nonprofit sector.
For more about successfully recruiting young professionals feel free to contact me at dania(@)toscanoadvisors.com
Copyright 2011, The Good Counsel, division of Toscano Advisors, LLC. May be duplicated with citation.